The future of distance learning

The-Web-Technology-timelineDistance learning had its start long before the formation of the Internet.  Tracey and Richey (2005) note an example of distance learning taking place in the 1800s via the use of postal service.  During the 1990s, a stamp-sized video was utilized to communicate for schools (Laureate Education, 2010).  The Internet was accessible through a 56k modem.  Now, most locations around developed areas of the world have connections in the megabits range.  Technology advances will occur and the delivery media will also change.  Currently, social media tools such as Facebook has reached across multiple generations and has made communication over the Internet appear acceptable to many. Thompson (2011) speculates that mobile devices would be the primary means of people connecting to the Internet, and the TV, Internet and Phone would mess into one supper communication tool.

With the Internet being readily available, more people will start choosing distance learning over traditional courses that require face-to-face communications.  Lohr (2009) mentions a report done by SRI International for the Department of Education that states, “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction” (paragraph 1).  Lohr (2009) posits that online education has evolved from electronic versions of the old-line correspondence courses because of the arrival of web-based video, instant messaging and collaboration tools.  As more students are taking online courses, distance learning will become more common and acceptable to employers and the general public as a whole.

The easy accessibility and flexibility of distance learning allow people to meet their educational needs as well as learn in a relaxed, meaningful and practical way. As more and more people join the working population, they will not have to worry about going to school for higher education.

Moreover, international students can also join courses in different universities and colleges without spending on travel or the costs of staying in a dorm. The Internet links them to a college located in another part of the world with classmates scattered throughout the globe. As a result, international distance learning will also gain in popularity due to its affordability, effectiveness and lack of cultural barriers.

The role of instructional designers is definitely important in improving the societal perceptions of distance learning.  The outdated correspondences by mail and lethargic use of media for communication have to be done away with.  Interactions have to be deliberate.  Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek (2009) notes that one of the most powerful techniques available for distance education courses is discussion.  The physical and psychological gap that occurs in online courses can be bridged when students build interactive relationships among themselves and the instructor (Durrington, Berryhill, & Swafford, 2006).  Above all, the technology chosen has to match the needs of the student.

Instructional designers can garner positive acceptance of distance learning on campuses by having the instructors also play the role of subject-matter experts.  Students can have a pleasant online experience by having access to technical help and feeling welcomed into a community.
References

Durrington, V., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J. (2006). Strategies for enhancing student interactivity in an online environment. College Teaching, 54(1), 190–193. Retrieved from http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/433631/strategies_for_enhancing_student_interactivity_in_an_online_environment/

Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). The future of distance education. [Online]. Retrieved from Walden University eCollege.

Lohr, S. (2009). Study finds that online education beats the classroom.  The New York Times.  Retrieved from http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/study-finds-that-online-education-beats-the-classroom/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Thompson, M. (2011).  What wil the Internet be like in 2025?.  Stay on Search. Retrieved from http://www.stayonsearch.com/what-will-the-internet-be-like-in-2025

Tracey, M., & Richey, R. (2005). The evolution of distance education. Distance Learning, 2(6), 17–21.

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Evaluating Open CourseWare (OCW) as distance learning courses

Evaluating Open CourseWare (OCW) as distance learning courses

What is OCW?

Open CourseWare (OCW) is an interesting concept and trend that was started by MIT in 2002.  OCW sites do have its misconceptions in its usefulness in the education field.  OCW does not mean online courses (Johnstone and Poulin, 2002).  OCW is the offering of free materials that are used in classes; however, the classes are not typically made for online course delivery.  The assignments and material do not always feature interactivity.  The typical offerings consists of .pdf files, lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists, assignments, experiments, and students’ work (Johnstone and Poulin, 2002).  Synchronous and asynchronous materials are plopped onto a website without much instruction.  OCW should be used as resources for ideas and not as “the resource” for instruction.

Free for who?

OCW are free for the end-user but not for the site offering the OCW.  OCW are not a popular model for education institutes because it does not generate large amounts of revenue.  “Even MIT OCW, the leader of the OCW movement, must raise approximately $4,000,000 each year to sustain operations (approximately $2,000,000 in donations and $2,000,000 in budgetary support from the university)” (Johansen, 2009, p. 10).  Such huge expenditures without a realistic cash infusion would force these sites to close down.  MIT does receive some funding from Amazon through the sales of books, but only time will tell if this strategy is enough to sustain such a program.

Grading an OCW

Bates proposed 12 rules for the use of technology in distance education (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright,  & Zvacek, 2009) that we will be using to an extent for grading an OCW, which are:

  1. Good teaching matters.  Quality design of learning activities is important for all delivery methods.
  2. Each medium has its own aesthetic.  Therefore professional design is important.
  3. Education technologies are flexible.  They have their own unique characteristics but successful teaching can be achieved with any technology.
  4. There is no “super-technology.” Each has its strengths and weaknesses; therefore they need to be combined (an integrated mix).
  5. Make all four media available to teacher and learners. Print, audio, television, and computers should all be available.
  6. Balance variety with economy. Using many technologies makes design more complex and expensive; therefore, limit the range of technologies in a given circumstance.
  7. Interaction is essential.
  8. Student numbers are critical. The choice of a medium will depend greatly on the number of learners reached over the life of a course.
  9. New technologies are not necessarily better than old ones.
  10. Teachers need training to use technology effectively.
  11. Teamwork is essential. No one person has all the skills to develop and deliver a distance learning course; therefore, subject-matter experts, instructional designers, and media specialists are essential on every team.
  12. Technology is not the issue. How and what we want the learners to learn is the issue and technology is a tool. (p. 147).

Grading an OCW by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as a distance learning course.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) offers an OCW free for the end-user.  The OCW offers no technical help, does not fulfill requests to contact their faculty members, does not offer a degree or certificate at the completion of their material, and it does not require an account registration.  Looking at its Adolescent Health and Development topic found at http://ocw.jhsph.edu/courses/AdolescentHealthDevelopment/, we are presented with a course description, syllabus, schedule, lecture materials, reading resources, other resources, and a survey.  All the materials presented in the lectures are PowerPoint slides that are converted into .pdf documents.  The materials do follow a sequential order, but the lack of interaction is notable since all the material come in the form .pdf documents.  Looking at the 12 rules mentioned earlier, we see that the site fails on rule one, five, seven, eight, and ten through twelve.  This OCW failed on 7 out of 12 rules, noting that some rules did not apply to the situation but was credited to favor the OCW. “The historian may ponder how late twentieth-century teachers could possibly have taken the most informative and far-reaching communication media ever invented and discredited them by such blunt, non-interactive styles of usage” (Baggaley, p. 43).

Final verdict!

The shortcomings of the JHSPH as a distance learning course are not the fault of the OCW designers.  Rather, it is the treatment of OCW as distance learning courses, which they are not.  In fact, the help file for JHSPH mentions that the OCW is not a distance-learning initiative.  JHSPH is a great OCW for obtaining informational resources and it should not be mistaken as a distance learning course.

Resources

Baggaley, J. (2008). Where did distance education go wrong?. Distance Education 29(1), pp. 39-51.  Retrieved from EBSCOhost database.

Johansen, J. (2009). The impact of opencourseware on paid enrollment in distance learning courses. Brigham Young University.  Retrieved from EBSCOhost database.

Johnstone, S. M., & Poulin, R. (2002). What is open courseware and why does it matter?. Change, 34(4), 48. Retrieved from EBSCOhost database.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.